Can't figure out random starts

Howdy hey,
Having a little issue here with my 2000 buick regal. There is an occasional instance where my car won’t start for a while, then after several attempts, itll start up. When I turn the ignition key, it will not even attempt to turn over. I can’t hear any clicking noise, but the lights/radio/ac will work ( I know I know, it takes a lot more to start the motor than those things). What gets me most is the randomness of it, and it will eventually work without me really doing anything. I figure if it were a bad battery then it wouldn’t start up at all after several attempts. I can see a bad battery connection being an issue if I moved the car and it started working, but I can sit there and just keep turning the switch on and off and that seems to be enough most of the times.

Usually it will come on within 5-10 minutes, and if I knew it would always come on in that amount of time, it wouldn’t be a big issue. But, once it took over an hour before it came on again. It usually does it during the day and after I’ve been driving it a while, but not always. Just last night it did it for a few minutes and I hadn’t driven it all day and it was at night (temp was in the mid 70’s, usually hotter than that a good amount during the days) I’ve checked the fuses and relays and they seem to be working.

I’m not much of a car buff so I’m not really sure where to go from here.


Try hitting the starter with a rubber mallet or the bottom of your shoe. It could be the solenoid on top of the starter. It may very well start after that. If so, your starter may need replacing. Sometimes the solenoid can be replaced separately. Also check the fat wire from the battery that goes to the starter. It could be that this wire is corroded or not making good contact.
Of course, it could be many things (like the ignition switch, transmission interlock, etc) but hitting the starter with a mallet is easily checked and immediately makes you feel better, whacking something on that P%%$#@%$$ car - which is likely what you’re calling it at the time. It is a good start.

Check for corrosion under the red cover for the positive battery cable.

GM’s side mount battery cables have a history of corrosion forming under the positive terminal cover causing a hard/no start condition.


The next time this happens just shift to neutral and see if it starts. You may have an intermittent neutral safety switch. If your Regal starts…just have the neutral safety switch replaced. This problem is as common as dirt.

Thanks for the replies. I’ve tried shifting to each of the positions and it didn’t help any. As far as corroded cable and bad starter, why would it not start and then all of a sudden start when I haven’t really done anything but turn the ignition?

If there’s a poor battery connection and you try to start the engine, this resistance creates heat. The more times you try to start the engine the more the heat builds.This heat causes the terminals to expand to the point where they make a good connection and the engine starts.


I’ll grab some baking soda and an old toothbrush and give it a go. Just happened again, this is the first time it’s not starting on the first attempt of the day. There is a single click sound when I turn the key, so I’m guessing that’s some sort of starter relay working atleast?

Yes. What you’re hearing is the starter relay engaging. But if the connection from the battery to starter is poor, the voltage drop to the starter from the poor connection will prevent the starter from operating.

Peel back the red cover to expose the positive battery terminals see if there’s corrosion.


Well I took off both terminals and they actually look quite clean and shiny still. Replaced and made sure it was fastened securely. Would be nice if that were the case but I don’t imagine it is.

If you know your way around a multimeter or test light try this: measure the voltage on the thin lead going to the starter. While someone else tries to start it, you should see 12 v there. Also see what voltage is present on the fat lead to the starter. It should have 12 v all the time. It may eliminate or accuse the starter as a cause.

Concur w/@RemcoW, this problem is best addressed by measuring the voltages at both terminals to the starter during attempted cranking. If both are ok, then the starter motor is likely the culprit. If not, it could be any of a slew of things, ignition switch, neutral (or clutch if manual) safety switch, starter relay, corroded connections, etc. But the problem can be discovered by working backwards from the starter motor at that point.

with the problem being so infrequent, will this tell me much if the car comes on?

Well obviously test those connections with the problem having reared its ugly head. If you bring it in somewhere, they’ll likely use what’s called the shotgun approach with them replacing what they think can be the cause. The starter will be their first suspect. That gets expensive quick when they guess wrong.

I’ll try and test that if I can. Unfortunately it usually happens most often when I’m away from home. But, I did get me a rubber mallet put in the car, so if it happens away from home I’ll see if tapping on the starter does anything.

with the problem being so infrequent, will this tell me much if the car comes on?

Yes, measuring the voltages may tell you something, even if the car at the time of the measurement appears to be starting ok. An engine may well crank and start with a voltage as low as 9.5 volts on one or the other connections during attempted cranking, but the voltage shouldn’t be that low, and a low voltage like that is a sign of a problem that needs to be addressed, because it will soon leave you stranded with a non-starting engine.

Doing this measurement is somewhat complicated and could be unsafe both to you and the car if not done correctly. Best to ask your local auto electric shop to do this for you unless you have auto-electrical experience yourself. If you do it yourself, be sure to consult the shop manual for the proper procedure and safety considerations.